Top 5 racing drivers to watch in 2018
With the racing season coming to a close in the next couple of weeks, Luke Barry looks ahead to 2018 and who we should be keeping an eye on across the world of motorsport
The year 2017 has been a great one for the world of motorsport. We’ve witnessed the most competitive World Rally Championship season in a decade, one of the closest Formula 1 battles in recent memory and have been inspired by some quite incredible stories, such as the strength of character shown from amputee Billy Monger.
But with team personnel heading home for Christmas and drivers hanging up their helmets until next year, attention is now switching towards 2018. Who should we be keeping our eye on next year? Here are just a few men who are sure to be lighting up their respective disciplines.
1. Fernando Alonso
What does a two-time Formula 1 World Champion have to prove? More than you’d think.
Alonso broke Michael Schumacher’s domination of F1 way back in 2005 before taking title number two a year later. The Spaniard is considered one of the greatest drivers currently in competition, dragging an inferior Ferrari into title contention in both 2010 and 2012, but he hasn’t won a Grand Prix since 2013.
That’s because his move back to McLaren hasn’t gone to plan. McLaren and Honda were kings of the sport back in the 80s, but the rekindled partnership has been one of angry radio messages, grid penalties and an embarrassing lack of horsepower. With Renault engines bolted onto the back of McLaren’s creation next year however, the British team could return back to the sharp end in 2018.
Alonso is renowned for dragging the most out of his wheels, so he could be a dark horse for race wins next year. But it isn’t just his Formula 1 exploits that makes Fernando one to watch.
Alonso has been very public about his ambition to win the so-called ‘Triple Crown’: the Monaco Grand Prix, the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the Indianapolis (Indy) 500.
Box one is already ticked, and he made his Indy 500 debut last year and lead before having to withdraw. Work is going in to achieve the Le Mans dream, with Alonso taking part in a rookie test session for leading manufacturer Toyota recently in Bahrain.
He will make his endurance racing debut in the 24 Hours of Daytona early next year with speculation linking him with a seat in a Toyota at the famous Le Mans race in June. Alonso will be one busy boy.
2. Thierry Neuville
Could’ve, should’ve, would’ve. Three modal verbs that sum up Thierry Neuville’s World Rally Championship campaign in 2017.
The WRC entered a new era this year with new technical regulations increasing the cars’ power and downforce, meaning each team came to the season-opening Monte-Carlo Rally with a blank canvas.
Neuville and his Hyundai team looked to have got it right. After years of dominance from the now withdrawn Volkswagen team and Sebastien Ogier who was now at M-Sport, Thierry powered his Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC into the lead of the world’s oldest rally. But an over-ambitious cut destroyed his suspension and meant the Belgian headed home empty handed.
Sweden was next, and history was about to repeat itself. It was Neuville who was once again setting the pace, but another corner misjudgement saw his i20 stricken at the side of the road and heading back to Germany with a mere eight points to its name, 40 points behind championship leader Jari-Matti Latvala.
Wins in Corsica, Argentina and Poland and a mistake from rival Ogier in Finland clawed him back into contention, but suspension failures in Germany and Spain meant Ogier would take the spoils a round early in Wales. A recent win in Australia meant the Belgian finished the year with double as many wins as his rivals and the most stage wins. But no championship.
It was to be the third time Neuville would finish second in the WRC, so no guesses as to working out where he’d like to finish in 2018. With perhaps a more cautious approach in 2018, Neuville could take the WRC by storm.
3. Andreas Bakkerud
The Norwegian rallycross star is one of the most popular members of the WRX paddock. He’s one of the most talented too, and staggeringly among the top six from this year’s championship, is the only one to have gone through the grassroots of rallycross racing.
Bakkerud’s 2017 campaign has been disappointing after the highs of 2016. Racing a freshly developed Ford Focus RS RX for internet legend Ken Block’s team, the Norwegian took three wins at home in Norway, in Sweden and at the season closing Argentina to finish a point away from second place in the championship.
His win in Norway made him the first man in series history to achieve the ‘perfect weekend’: a win in all four qualifying heats, his semi-final and final. This year has been more of a struggle though. Despite consistently making event finals, Bakkerud only graced the podium four times and never made the top step.
Such was the struggle with the car, Ford Performance announced not long before the end of the season that it was pulling the plug on its rallycross programme. Which means at this current point, Andreas has no drive for 2018.
But rest assured, he will be around. Any of the remaining teams in the paddock would be daft not to consider him. He is a born winner just needing the car underneath him to produce the goods. A fresh chapter beckons, which makes Bakkerud a mouth-watering prospect next term.
4. Lando Norris
Where do we begin with this teenage superstar? The 18-year-old Brit has won several single seater titles already, most notably European Formula 3 this year, and is now the McLaren Formula 1 team’s official test driver.
Quite some CV already, and a Formula 2 campaign (F1’s major support series) looks likely for 2018. Such are Norris’ ambitions, he will be looking to win the title.
F1 is full of previous champions from this discipline, with Lewis Hamilton, Nico Hulkenberg and Romain Grosjean to name just a few. Although McLaren is currently content with its line-up of Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne, that isn’t going to get in the way of Lando’s dream of reaching the pinnacle of single-seater racing.
The next move is yours Lando. But 2018 could go a long way in deciding his future destiny.
5. Tom Ingram
The British Touring Car racer really came of age in 2017. Driving a Toyota Avensis for Speedworks Motorsport, Ingram took a sensational third overall in the championship and his first championship silverware, winning the Independents trophy for non-manufacturer backed drivers.
Ingram first broke into the BTCC big-time in 2015 with a superb performance at Rockingham that drew plaudits from series stalwart Jason Plato. Last year were the signs that he would make it. 2017 was largely the finished article.
Ingram spent much of the early season as championship leader, with wins at Brands Hatch and Donington Park, but his season would fall apart at Oulton Park with no points scored. His bizarre lack of fortune plagued his mid-season, with a win around Knockhill re-igniting his campaign. But the damage had been done for a title charge.
Without that blip, Ingram would’ve been right there come Finals Day. He has shown vast improvement throughout the years, so the biggest prize in UK motorsport will be the realistic aim in 2018.